"The Pentagon soon will begin paying monthly bonuses of up to $500 to troops barred from leaving the military because they're needed for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A fatter paycheck will take some of the sting out of the military's high demand for troops and the resulting stop-loss policy. But it won't do anything to dry the tears of soldiers' children distraught over Dad's or Mom's absence. Now the Pentagon wants to create computerized hologram-like moms and dads that can talk with the kids when their parents are deployed far from home and beyond telephone or e-mail contact.
But don't expect the hologram scene from Star Wars where Princess Leia appears to ask, "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi." The Pentagon is still looking for the right technique and technology — at the right price. The parameters are simple: lonely kids should be able to "boot up" Dad or Mom on their home computer. "The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, everyday topics," reads the Defense Department's solicitation seeking companies to develop the concept. "For instance, a child may get a response from saying 'I love you,' or 'I miss you,' or 'Good night.'" The goal: reassuring little ones whose parent has suddenly disappeared. "The children don't quite understand Mommy or Daddy being deployed," says Navy commander Russell Shilling, the experimental psychologist overseeing the program. "That kind of interaction — the need to say goodnight or to continue to feel connected to a parent — is very important."'